Sorry, No Sweet Talk for Baby-Shakers
Two letters--a request and a reply
Dear Jordan,
A friend just wrote the following (I don't wish to identify her). Can you make a specific suggestion of something she could read which will help her without making her wrong?
"Yesterday I had a terrible day with my 21 month old from when he woke up to when he went to bed - though we did have some fun in between. He was in a lousy mood and very contrary to everything I asked of him. He threw fits and was generally in a bad mood. Top this off with my being extremely tired and we wasted an entire day where we could have been close and loving for a day where we were both upset. I try very much to discipline Gabriel without spanking or using violent words or aggressive behaviour. But when days like yesterday happen I lose sight of my commitment to treat him with respect and allow him the space to being in a bad mood and I spanked him and at one point while he was in the middle of a terrible, uncontrollable temper tantrum I shook him, raising my voice to try and get him to settle down. In the end he did settle down and went to bed but he woke up twice in the night calling my name out (once he fell back to sleep and the other I went and tucked him back in bed and he went back to sleep) and this morning he woke up at 5:45, luckily in a good mood. I can't help but think that his restlessness had to do with our not being well connected yesterday..

So, all of this to say that I am deeply committed to discipline without violence and aggressiveness and I don't always match up to that commitment. Any advice you can give...."

Dear G.,
With regard your letter about the fretting mother and her fretting baby, there is a lot I could say which would take considerable time. But what I must tell you can't wait until I've sorted through the details. I have to tell you now. You want me to suggest "something she could read, which will help her without making her wrong." Well, if she isn't wrong then she is right. And if she isn't right, then she is wrong. It is one or the other; not both.

What is right about her risking blindness or brain damage to her infant? What is right about your failure to immediately inform this mother of that very real danger? Somebody should tell her the facts of life before she causes irreparable injury to her child. That would be the right thing to do, in my opinion. Clearly nobody has done it. It would seem even the recent well-publicized shaking death of infant Matthew Eappen and the trial of the nice young girl who shook him hasn't penetrated this mother's awareness.

Were there a choice between shaking a baby or throwing a brick at a baby, the thrown brick would be less risky. And I doubt if anybody would be squeamish about offending the feelings of a brick-throwing mom. Obviously, this mother needs some competent counseling, especially in managing her own compulsion to physically hurt the baby during moments of stress. You'll notice from her writing, she never considered the possibility that the baby might be suffering from painful indigestion or gas. That does happen to babies too, not just big folks. Hasn't somebody informed her? Furthermore, babies don't fret just to persecute poor, beleaguered adults and cheat them out of their fun.

The mother says, "...though we did have some fun in between.... He was in a lousy mood and very contrary to everything I asked of him." Those words make me wonder: which one is the baby and which one is the parent? And elsewhere in her letter she says she shook him to "get him to settle down." Again, I have to wonder which party needed to settle down, parent or baby? This mother needs more than a good book, I'm afraid. She needs an adult on the scene to take over when needed, to model good parenting skills and to let her settle down and get a grip on her own behavior.

Somebody ought to tell her without mincing words to quit the baby-shaking before she causes permanent damaged to her child's optic nerve or brain. After the child is protected, then let's worry about tact, diplomacy and a good book or two to help gentle this girl-mother into the responsibilities of parenthood.

By the way, you need not consider this letter a private communication. You can share it with anybody including the mother in question.


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